Everyday Cooking, Cooking Every Day – Zoë Chan & Mark Clintberg

Everyday Cooking, Cooking Every Day was a residency that we co-curated for the artist-run center Articule in 2014, which investigated the parallels between curatorial/artistic and gastronomic practices. The residency included planning, preparing, and hosting a series of events entitled “10 Meals, 10 Days” wherein we organized ten meals and blogged daily about the discussions held during those meals.[1] We chose a range of guests working in the Montreal arts milieu who had an interest in food, cooking, and/or hospitality, and whom we knew personally or professionally before our research began.[2] The project stemmed from a shared wish to bridge our professional practices in the contemporary art milieu and our personal food-related interests and activities, and to break down the divide between those two domains. We wanted to reflect on what a daily practice could mean; as we were already cooking for ourselves or for others on a fairly regular basis, at times it felt easier to be more engaged with cooking (and all of its associated tasks) than with our professional work as artist, teacher, curator, or cultural worker.

Articule gave us a budget of $500, which we funneled into our food costs—about $50 for ingredients for each meal (though this did not include the ingredients that we already had stocked). We made dishes that we knew well, using available ingredients, most of which came from the nearby Jean-Talon Market. Sometimes our collaborators showed us how to make a particular dish. Guests were invited to bring something to drink if they wished. Our research process emphasized the social, the collaborative, and the participatory, involving discussions and/or cooking with participants primarily in our homes but also, at times, in the homes of others at their invitation. Each person inevitably brought a different perspective to our discussions depending on their personal tastes, training, and backgrounds.

Everyday Cooking, Cooking Every Day was influenced by Michel de Certeau et al.’s The Practice of Everyday Life, Volume 2: Living and Cooking, which examines the innovation and inventiveness that emerges from cooking in domestic contexts. Within the Montreal context, where at the time we were both living, we were directly inspired by the practices of artists such as Shié Kasai, Karen Tam, Claudia Fancello, and Dean Baldwin, which frequently involve cooking, the display of food, and/or the preparation and sharing of food. Finally, we were interested in thinking about everyday cooking (as opposed to restaurant cooking by professionally trained chefs) as a potential model for working and developing artistic and curatorial projects. Here are a few notes inspired by these meals with our collaborators. They are far from exhaustive; we offer them up as brief windows into the discussions held, and hopefully as compelling points of entry into larger ongoing conversations.

“Doing-Cooking”

In her essay, “The Nourishing Arts,”[3] Luce Giard writes about her mother and generations of women traditionally responsible for household cooking. Featuring personal anecdotes around Giard’s own “culinary education,” the essay describes the process of domestic cooking as a kind of intellectual process, an applied way of thinking and communicating, involving “a subtle intelligence full of nuances and strokes of genius, a light and lively intelligence that can be perceived without exhibiting itself” (158). She describes the process of transforming simple materials as a creative one: “the preparation of a meal furnishes that rare joy of producing something oneself, of fashioning a fragment of reality, of knowing the joys of a demiurgic miniaturization…” (158).

The creativity inherent to cooking acknowledges past practices but also allows for innovation and inventiveness as one adapts methods and materials in accordance with the needs and constraints of the current context. Giard writes that, “alimentary habits constitute a domain where tradition and innovation matter equally, where past and present are mixed to serve the needs of the hour, to furnish the joy of the moment, and to suit the circumstances” (151). What Giard calls “doing-cooking” is performative, but even more than that, it is physically embodied as “the whole body [is] inhabited with the rhythm of working” (153). It is also an act of deep subjectivity, for even while working within specific cultural, socioeconomic, and geographical frameworks, “each operator can create her own style according to how she accents a certain element of her practice,” and “how she creates her personal way of navigating through accepted, allowed, and ready-made techniques” (156).

Labour

Underpinning Luce Giard’s essay is the feminist goal of recognizing the often under-appreciated or unrecognized work of domestic cooking—traditionally considered the domain of women. When we initially posed the question, “What can we learn from domestic cooking and apply to our artistic/curatorial practices?”, we somehow had not thought of this particular parallel between the cultural worker or artist and the homemaker. In any case, it quickly became clear that this was one of the main links between domestic and cultural work: both are often celebrated or at least considered important in some quarters, yet nonetheless are frequently undervalued and unpaid.

What it means to work with limited resources, financial and otherwise, also came up. At times, these constraints seemed to lead to innovation and the development of different ways of art-making, curating, or programming. Shié Kasai, for example, spoke of her struggles around how to balance maintaining an art practice and making a living. One of her ways of reducing the costs normally accrued by studio rental and the purchase of materials was to start working in her kitchen with food both as material and subject matter. This approach resulted in her show Survival Japanese Cooking (2008), which featured, among other elements, a video documenting the artist consuming various foods over several months and photographs of imaginatively constructed dishes. Another example comes from Dean Baldwin, who told us that galleries often didn’t have a production budget for him to make new work and so he ended up using the budget that they had allocated for the opening reception (drinks, catering) to create the kind of food-focused events that now mark his art practice.

Other times though, these financial constraints of “making do” seem more likely to lead to levels of burnout and dissatisfaction regarding one’s job and art in general, as many institutions depend on their employees to do some kind of free work, whether it’s required on a regular basis (for example, to work extra hours on a weekly basis beyond what the position’s salary officially covers) or on an intermittent basis (for example, attending various cultural events or meetings at the end of a normal workday as a representative of that institution). The question was raised: by accepting the conditions of working for free, is it possible that one is contributing to a phantom economy and encouraging a faulty, even unethical, system? 

Joint hospitality

More than once our conversation turned to the role that hospitality plays in domestic cooking and creative practice. The terms “host” and “guest” were invoked and debated, as in some situations it became unclear who exactly was hosting. During our residency, Dean Baldwin, for instance, invited us to cook a meal with him at his house; although we had organized the project (and were therefore possibly “hosting”), he welcomed us into his home (suggesting that he was also host). As a host, Dean told us that he prefers to allocate tasks and share preparation duties with his guests so that everyone present feels like they are working towards a common goal. And so alongside him, we washed and chopped vegetables for various dishes served during our meal with him.

Rather than considering ourselves as the conveners and sole hosts of our events, we began to reflect on how hospitality is a shared enterprise finessed by so-called guest and host, and appreciate that our curatorial and studio projects could benefit from such a model. We chose to invite people who we imagined would enjoy one another’s company. In this way, we aimed for respectful interactions over conflictual or heated exchanges. Domestic hosting usually involves an unspoken expectation for similar, convivial attitudes from our guests. In hosting, we prepared food and decorated the table in advance in the interests of making people feel comfortable and at ease, but it was clear that our hospitality was augmented and extended by the generosity of our guests, that is to say, in their willingness to contribute to the discussion around food and hospitality and engage with our project. In this way, the spirit of hospitality was reciprocal, and depended both on the attitudes of host and guest.

Similarly, we began to think of how we could apply this more open concept of joint hospitality to the work shared by a curator, institution, public, and artist, where no single entity is hosting but instead where every party shares equal responsibility for creating an affective and intellectual setting for work to be done. Joint hospitality offers opportunities for curators to loosen their control over exhibitions and to welcome improvisation. Such extemporization might include, for example, details as basic as the placement of an artwork in a specific context, or as complex as determining what the artwork will be on site through conversations between artists, curators, and institutions. Moreover, this approach also invites publics to approach an exhibition visit as a kind of “journey” that they are invited to take by artists and curators.

Values

One of our participants, Jim Verburg, talked about how his mother, Minny Verburg, believed in making everything from scratch. Part of this was due to a kind of Calvinist ethos of working with what one had. But it was also the pride of a woman who took pleasure in working with her hands and making tasty things, and after all, “Why buy something ready-made when you could make it very well, and probably even better, yourself?” Minny’s penchant for cooking in conjunction with a pragmatic “waste not, want not” perspective had been transmitted to her son, who transformed it to fit his own value system without the Christian perspective. He loves to make home-made dishes and experiment with ingredients and methods, and that interest in hands-on experimentation in cooking also plays out in his concrete engagement with various mediums. It is fascinating to think how these kinds of lessons—in this case passed to the artist from his mother—are consciously or unconsciously manifested within an art practice.

It’s powerful to consider that every time you eat something cooked for you that you’re consuming someone’s idea of what’s good or the good way to make something, which also then speaks to a larger philosophical question, namely, what they consider to be the “good” life. In the same way, each artwork or exhibition is in a way a vessel for passing on your own value system and an opportunity to think about what you believe in. Certainly, these dining encounters encouraged us to consider, “If I’m going to bother to organize and share a project with others, what do I believe in, what message am I trying to transmit here? Moreover, how do I negotiate my beliefs and values in relation to the agenda of the institution with which I’m working?” And so on.

Writing together

These notes on Everyday Cooking, Cooking Every Day are not meant to be prescriptive; every project is different, calling for a different way of working depending on the subject matter and context. The advantages of a co-authored text—as with any collaborative project—are similar to those of preparing a co-hosted meal: co-authoring is an opportunity to juggle or break down our usual ways of doing things, to question our values, to be hospitable toward each other’s ways of thinking and working, and ultimately, we hope, to extend this hospitality to our potential readers.

We wish to thank Articule for hosting Everyday Cooking, Cooking Every Day as part of their Special Projects programming in 2014. We also extend thanks to our collaborators, all of whom are identified in the text above.

Image credits:

Zoë Chan, “Ten Meals, Ten Days,” series as part of the Everyday Cooking, Cooking Every Day residency, Montréal, August 2014.

Works Cited:

[1] http://everydaycookingcookingeverday.tumblr.com.

[2] Our collaborators were Dean Baldwin, Gentiane Bélanger, Eunice Bélidor, Anthony Burnham, Meredith Carruthers, Claudia Fancello, Emeren Garcia, k.g. Guttman, Shié Kasai, Kelly Keenan, Jeff Kulak, John Latour, Sophie Le-Phat Ho, David K. Ross, Libby Shea, Cheryl Sim, Johanne Sloan, Julie Tremble, Pierre-François Ouellette, Marina Polosa, Pablo Rodriguez, Theresa Rowat, Jim Verburg, Susannah Wesley, and Mary Sui Yee Wong.

[3] Luce Giard, “The Nourishing Arts,” Michel de Certeau et al., The Practice of Everyday Life, Volume 2: Living & Cooking (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1998), 151-169.

Zoë Chan is an independent curator and critic whose research interests lie in youth and youth cultures, food, documentary, and discourse around representation and identity. Her curatorial projects have been presented at Kamloops Art Gallery, MSVU Art Gallery (Halifax), Articule (Montréal), Foreman Art Gallery of Bishop’s University (Sherbrooke), and the MAI (Montréal, arts interculturels). In 2014, she was one of twelve international curators selected to participate in ICI’s Curatorial Intensive program in New York. She has contributed to Canadian Art, C Magazine, esse arts + opinions, and Momus, among other publications. She is a two-time recipient of the Canada Council for the Arts’ Project Grant to Curators and Critics, and in 2015, received its Joan Lowndes Award in recognition of excellence in critical and curatorial writing. She has a Master’s degree in art history from Concordia University (Montréal).

Mark Clintberg is an artist who works in the field of art history. He is represented by Pierre François Ouellette art contemporain in Montreal, Canada, and is an Assistant Professor in the School of Critical and Creative Studies at the Alberta College of Art + Design. He earned his Ph.D. in Art History at Concordia University in 2013, where he was also an Assistant Professor, LTA. He was Longlisted for the Sobey Art Award for the region Prairies and the North in 2016, and Shortlisted for the Award in 2013. His work has recently been shown at the Dunlop Art Gallery (Regina), the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (Halifax), the Art Gallery of Alberta (Edmonton), the Illingworth Kerr Gallery (Calgary), AXENÉ07 (Gatineau), and Trapdoor Artist Run Centre (Lethbridge). Other exhibitions featuring his work have taken place at Locust Projects (Miami), the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa), the Banff Centre, Centre des arts actuels Skol (Montreal), Art Souterrain (Montreal), The Harbourfront Centre (Toronto), and Eastern Edge (St. John’s). Journals and periodicals that have published his writing include The Senses & Society, C Magazine, ETC., BlackFlash, Canadian Art, The Art Newspaper, Border Crossings, the Fillip Review, Photofile, Arte al Dia International, and Art.es Magazine.